What would wider grounding of the Boeing 737-800 mean for domestic operations in China?
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On 21st March 2022, a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft operating flight MU5735 from Kunming to Guangzhou was reported as having crashed en-route. It is reported that 132 people were on board. This has been followed by the grounding of the China Eastern Boeing 737-800 fleet. The incident comes amidst continued significant improvements in aviation safety in China over the past decades. We used IBA's InsightIQ to examine the 737-800 fleet in China, and the impact the subsequent grounding of the type is likely to have.
According to aviation intelligence from IBA's InsightIQ platform, the effected aircraft is a Boeing 737-800, MSN 41474 and is registered as B-1791. The aircraft was delivered to China Eastern in June 2015, part of the 89 in-service 737-800 fleet run by the Shanghai-based operator. China has the largest Boeing 737-800 fleet by number with nearly 1,200 examples identified by our fleet data. Not only does China operate the largest 737-800 fleet, but also the youngest. The average age of the fleet is just above eight years, five years below the global average.
It is clear that with the prevalence of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft in China, further groundings of the type by other operators could have a significant impact on domestic travel. China Eastern's grounding represents 89 aircraft, and the carrier is 6th largest operator of the type in China. China Southern Airlines would be the operator most effected by a fleet-wide grounding, managing 163 Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
Scheduled flights to Guangzhou Baiyun Airport were cancelled following the incident, and IBA anticipates there may be further impacts to other Chinese domestic routes. Flight data from IBA's InsightIQ aviation intelligence platform has identified the top 10 busiest flight routes by Chinese 737-800 operators so far in 2022.
Guangzhou, the destination of the accident aircraft, has seen the highest number of flights operated by Chinese Boeing 737-800 aircraft in 2022 so far, occupying 4 out of 10 top city-pair routes in China (followed by Beijing and Shanghai). China Eastern 737-800 operations account for over 8.2% of total Chinese 737-800 flights so far in 2022. Other notable operators are China Southern (14.1% of operations), Xiamen Airlines (12.7% of operations), Hainan Airlines (11.7% of operations) and Shandong Airlines (10.3% of operations).
IBA will continue to monitor and report with insights and analysis on this developing situation. The thoughts of all the IBA team are with those effected by this tragedy.
Malaysia has become the first Southeast Asian nation to lift bans on Boeing 737 Max operations after a safety directive issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia 'CAAM' on 2 September 2021. Image: Paul Thomson, Flickr